Culture

What I learned riding 500km on Zwift in 12.5 hours

The good, the bad, and the straight-up gross revealed, or, in many cases, just relearned.

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On December 30, I rode 500km (311mi) on Zwift in 12.5 hours as a fundraiser for World Bicycle Relief. The WBR500 crew raised more than $100,000 in all, thanks to a lot of teamwork and community effort. It was super cool. It was also… a lot of trainer time.

Here are a few things I learned — or relearned — about comfort, psychology, physiology, and the importance of momentum.

Comfort is key

Per Bobby Julich’s advice, I set aside a few complete changes of clothes. I ended up just switching once, at the halfway point. Both times I wore Giordana FR-C Pro bibs, which I love and which have a perfectly smooth chamois. Some clothing companies use sculpted and printed pads that look techy, but in my experience, ridges and wrinkles and seams are to be avoided. Anyhow, those bibs work great for me.

I tried  Castelli’s ‘dry’ chamois cream, which supposedly lets your skin breathe a bit better than more viscous options. I used a Specialized Power Elaston, which is the saddle I used the last time I was pedaling for 12 hours — at the DK 200/Unbound. And I used a beat-up, old pair of Shimano R321 shoes with toe covers.

Bottom line? My legs were smoked, but I didn’t get any saddle sores after a long day of incessant pedaling. (Ironically, I did a four-hour ride a few days later on a test bike… and got a saddle sore. Dang it.)

What do you ‘pack’ for a 500km ride that goes nowhere? In my case, a lot. Photo: Ben Delaney

My garage was about 20 degrees at the start, and only warmed up to a little over freezing, which ended up being a wonderful thing, as I didn’t have to have the fans blasting for hours. And, as coach Zach Nehr has researched and written about, keeping cool means more power inside.

Takeaway: Finding your best fit in a saddle, bib shorts, and position pays dividends over the long haul. So does keeping your engine cool.

Teamwork is huge

Some 32 of us around the world completed the 500km ride, and dozens and dozens more folks jumped into Zwift to take pulls. We had a huge group for the vast majority of the time I was riding. The ride leaders like Kieran Ronan did an excellent job of keeping the groups together, on pace, and chatting up a storm.

There is absolutely no way I would have done 500km without the teamwork. For starters, I never would have started such a crazy venture alone. But in the closing hour, it was particularly helpful to have people like my friends Jennifer Sharp and John Owen not only take pulls and keep me in the group, but also ping the group with little messages like “remember why you’re doing this.”

Chatting in the game — and staying on the wheels — kept me engaged for hours. Photo: Ben Delaney

I never rode solo save for a few minutes after I took my one midway-point break, and was waiting for the group. At that point, I was going probably 25kph, instead of the 40kph we averaged in the group. Once the group came swooping by, I jumped in, and we were chatting away as I hid in the draft, hour after hour.

Takeaway: Many hands make a light load. Or, in this case, many legs.

You need to eat, drink, and pee a lot over 12.5 hours

Breaking news, eh? Big rides require big fuel. I built a little shelf into my garage framing to hold my laptop, a dozen bottles, and a whole mess of food.

My colleague Betsy Welch baked me a delicious apple cake, which I polished off before 10 a.m. (I started at 4 a.m.) I also went through cookies, a few slices of my wife’s pizza, pita chips, bananas, Bobo Bars, Clif Blocks, four cups of coffee, and 12 bottles of water and Skratch.

Now all that coffee, water, and Skratch has to go somewhere. Outside on a long ride, you’d pull over for a nature break, right? And Kieran did set up a route so that riders could jump off at the dino gas station on the Tempus Fugit course in Zwift, take a quick break, and then rejoin the group approximately 4½ minutes later after a turnaround. But with more than 13,000 people on that course on the day, I was concerned that if I did stop, I would never be able to find the group again. Also, we were flying! I didn’t want to leave the train.

You see where this is going.

Long story short, I peed in a bottle. A few times. After trying to coast and handle my business, I was immediately dropped and had to chase hard to get back on. So I ended up peeing in a bottle while pedaling. That was a first. And hopefully a last!

Takeaway: Stocking up on easy-to-reach hydration and nutrition can keep the party going for hours. User’s choice on how gross you want to be about the disposal of said hydration.

Momentum is real

I’m a big fan of World Bicycle Relief. Years back, when I worked at BikeRadar, my colleagues James Huang, Josh Patterson, and I would donate our used test gear to The Pro’s Closet, who would auction it and give the proceeds to WBR. I think we raised more than $25,000 over the course of a few years. To be able to help in a very small way on WBR500 raising more than $100,000 for one ride was huge!

One of WBR’s slogans is the “Power of the Bicycle.” I’m drinking the Kool-Aid here, but I’m a believer. You and I pedal for many reasons: recreation, fitness, competition, mental health, green commuting. WBR provides school kids and health care workers with their ultra-sturdy Buffalo Bikes, which gets them where they otherwise might not be able to go.

WBR provides Buffalo Bikes to healthcare workers and school kids where they are needed. Photo: World Bicycle Relief

You or I could have given money to WBR at any point in the last few years, but mostly we didn’t. There wasn’t any momentum for us individually. But with Kieran and the WBR500 crew, there was a group focus and a rallying point.

Similarly, you or I could have ridden 500km at any point in the last few years, but why the heck would we do that?! But once there was an event, there was a rallying point, and riders came out of the woodwork to keep the group cruising.

Takeaway: Riding bikes is rad. Riding bikes with others is radder. Riding bikes with others to provide life-changing bikes to those who need them? The raddest.